Exploring The Southern Appalachian Treasure
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, situated on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, is one of the most popular national parks of the south.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the eastern border of Tennessee and the westernmost border of North Carolina, is well known for its diverse wildlife, beautiful mountain landscapes, and Appalachian history. In 2009, the Smokies will be celebrating their 75th anniversary. A popular destination for family vacations, avid hikers, and tourists at all times of the year, the Smoky Mountains National Park is rich with activity for people of all interests and abilities.
Activities of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Founded in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of hiking, as well as plenty of opportunities for fishing, picnicking, bicycling, and wildlife viewing. In addition to the breathtaking views of the Appalachian mountains, the Great Smokies also offer up plenty of waterfalls, wildflowers, auto tours, and historic buildings, as well.
Camping Reservations and Fees at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smokies are open year-round, though some access points will be closed or limited during winter. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few parks in the system that does not charge an entrance fee. Camping fees range from $14-23, depending on the site, and there is a nominal charge for renting the pavilion. Some additional activities may be run by independent businesses and the fees may vary.
Camping sites at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are popular and do tend to fill up quickly. The front country campsites are available for reservations six months in advance, while the group campsites can be reserved one year in advance. Reservations can be made online or by phone. Those considering backcountry camping in the Great Smoky Mountains cannot make online or phone reservations, but are required to pick up a permit at one of the designated centers upon arrival. The permits for backcountry camping are free.
Wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains
According to the official website of the National Park Service, scientists estimate that only 12 percent of the plants and wildlife of The Smokies are actually known, an estimated 12,000 of 100,000 different species. It is not uncommon for visitors to the Smoky Mountains National Park to see elk, raccoons, white-tailed deer, and one of the estimated 1,500 bears that live within the park’s borders.
Visitors to The Smokies are advised to not feed any of the wildlife and to keep a safe distance when watching them. Not only is it against the law to feed any wildlife species, but it is also a crime to disturb or displace the living creatures of the park.
Because many of the wildlife in the Smoky Mountain National Park are active at night, visitors who wish to increase their chances of seeing wildlife are encouraged to look for wildlife early in the morning or at dusk, when the light is beginning to fade.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular parks in the southeastern United States. It makes a great summer vacation for couples and families and offers activities for everyone. Those interested in viewing the park without making the trip in person may enjoy checking in on the webcams of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Gateway to Great Smoky Mountain National Park
During the 75-year existence of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the towns just outside the Tennessee side of the park have become wildly popular in their own right.
For visitors to “The Smokies” Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) represents the chance to bike through Cades Cove, fish for brook trout in a remote mountain stream, or chance a morning hike encounter with one of the park’s many Black Bear. But for an equal number of vacationers the communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, Tennessee offer the hope of shopping, fine dining, amusement parks, a world-class aquarium, the soft adventure thrills of Zorbing, zip-lining, bungee jumping, go-kart racing, indoor skydiving and an evening of award-winning stage shows.
Shopping Dining and Astounding Attractions in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Perched on the doorstep of GSMNP, Gatlinburg has become a hive of activity for anyone taking a break from the park’s natural splendor, and for people with the urge to shop and sightsee on their time off.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a “must-see” world-class aquarium in the heart of Gatlinburg. Its exotic residents are no less captivating than the bears in the park, and far easier to spot. Other notable Gatlinburg attractions include the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Guinness World Records Museum.
Dining around Gatlinburg you’ll find a bevy of Pancake shops for breakfast, and the usual burgers and corndogs you’d expect in a tourist town. But for dinner, Lineberger’s Seafood is a feast of aquatic pleasures rarely found this far inland.
Stage Shows and Soft Adventure in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Though it’s a bit further from the GSMNP entrance, Pigeon Forge looks and feels like the center of activity outside the park. Arrayed along a strip of businesses referred to as “The Parkway”, Pigeon Forge is the place to go for soft adventure fun such as Indoor Skydiving, Zorbing (a big clear rubber ball that you sit in as it bounces down a hill), bungee jumping, and Dollywood with its world-renowned roller coasters, games, shows, and craft shops.
Pigeon Forge is also a great place to go to catch an evening stage show. Popular Pigeon Forge shows include:
- Dixie Stampede (an equestrian extravaganza)
- Country Tonite (country music show)
- The Miracle (an epic musical depiction of the life of Christ)
- Black Bear Jamboree Dinner & Show (song & dance review)
- Magic Beyond Belief (Magic Show)
With so much going on in and around Pigeon Forge, it’s no surprise that it is filled with quite a few top-notch restaurants as well. Pigeon Forge visitors consistently rank Applewood Barn, the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grill, and the Flying Horse Grill (famous for its handmade Italian carousel) among their favorites.
Sevierville is Much More Than Just Dolly Parton’s Hometown
A few miles outside of GSMNP, the town of Sevierville is most famous for being the place where Dolly Parton grew up. And while Dolly comes “home” each April for the park’s annual opening (and on other occasions), Sevierville has its share of other notable attractions.
Visitors to Sevierville should plan to try the Wahoo Zip Line adventure, Nascar SpeedPark, visit the National Knife Museum and experience the Rainforest Adventure (reptile zoo). And anyone in town for more than just a brief stay should catch a performance of Cirque de Chine, a circus-style presentation of Chinese cultural arts and acrobatics.
Other Notable Smokies Attractions
- Go-kart racing
- ATV Trail Riding
- Whitewater Rafting
- Horseback Riding
- Miniature Golf
Regardless of whether they come for the park, the shopping, the shows, or a little adventure, visitors to the gateway cities around Great Smoky Mountain National Park can’t help but go home with a host of memories tailored to their individual taste for adventure, and excitement.